„The topic would be, of course, WATER.“

Am 3., 10. und 17. Juni kann man im Rahmen des Projekts BERLIN UMBRELLA mit Hörregenschirmen durch den Viktoriapark spazieren. Vertont wurde ein Gedicht der englischen Poetin Stephanie Green, der wir zu dieser Gelegenheit einige Fragen stellten.

How did the idea of BERLIN UMBRELLA come up?

The Sound Umbrella is Sonja Heyer, the Sound Artist’s idea. She has been working for some years on projects in Germany and Taiwan in which participants go on a walk listening to her natural water recordings from inside an umbrella.

Sonja and I met on a Scottish island in the Hebrides back in 2004 and since then have been visiting each other in Berlin or Edinburgh and are aware of each other’s artistic development. So far, she had incorporated text with her water recordings but never poetry. Watching and listening to a vimeo I played her of a song collaboration I was involved in, performed at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney, inspired her to invite me to collaborate with her and I was delighted. The topic would be, of course,  WATER.  If writing about Berlin, the main focus had to be the river Spree, of course and, like an umbrella, many aspects could be covered, from glacial origins, through historical events up to contemporary issues.

For you, what particular quality does the BERLIN UMBRELLA project have?

The particular quality of BERLIN UMBRELLA is an evocation of Berlin through many voices, some British, some German accented, male and female, humans and folklore characters such as the evil Nix and also a children’s nursery song, all connected to the Spree. The myriad nature of water is also suggested in poems that are a mixture of small intense, haiku-like visual images (water drops) and longer, more fluid verses (the river’s flow) where linear thought is interrupted by visual images. In the same way, the river symbolizes the flow of memory which does not necessarily come in a chronological pattern, but in disconnected flashes. Contrasting rhythmic patterns are also responded to by Sonja in her sound recordings.

Above all, I saw my poetry as a libretto, something to be heard and not just read on the page. I have been thrilled to see how Sonja’s sounds create an extraordinary atmosphere, and how the combined work becomes an immersive experience.

Have you participated in similar projects before?

I have never collaborated with a Sound Artist before so this has been a very exciting challenge, but I have collaborated with a fine artist, a photographer, a composer and a choreographer. Notably, as part of the St Magnus Writers and Young Composers courses, the composer Marisa Sharon Hartanto put one of my poems ‘The Child of Breckon Sands’, inspired by a Shetlandic folk tale, to music for voice and piano and this was performed by the mezzo-soprano, Alison Wells at the St Magnus Festival, in Orkney, Scotland 2013 (q.v.). Another poem ‘Ayre’ inspired a dance piece choreographed by Matthew Hawkins and performed by Platinum dance group at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh in 2015.

The UMBRELLA project takes place in a spacious park in Berlin. How relevant is space in your poems?

The special quality of any aural work is the power of the imagination to create images, not only static but moving. It’s often said that radio has better pictures than film! So it is with listening to poetry. My experience as a dramatist for BBC Schools Radio has been useful since I knew I could jump back and forth in history, and carry the listener with me on a journey through Time and Space down the course of the river.

An imaginative space is also left for the participants to see for themselves connections between the flow of images in the poetry and between the poetry and the soundscape.

Space in terms of the park is hugely relevant, since the participant will be walking whilst listening, and walking creates its own rhythm which helps thoughts to flow.  Perhaps the participant might walk in time to the verse or even be tempted to dance. The background of green space or trees will allow their imagination to roam, or else they can meditate on the poetry they’ve just heard during the water sound interludes. Alternatively, they can, at Viktoriapark, let the sound of the cascades mix with the umbrella’s sounds and create their own symphony.

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Stephanie Green is Anglo-Irish, born in England, with a BA from Trinity College Dublin (1970) and MPhil from Glasgow University (2004).  Her  pamphlet ‚Glass Works‘ (Cat’s Pyjamas Publications, 2005) was shortlisted for the Callum McDonald Award. Recently a pamphlet ‚Flout‘ inspired by Shetland was published by HappenStance, 2015, launching at StAnza Poetry Festival. She also has a novel for teenagers ‚The Triple Spiral‘ published by Walker Books, 1989 and several scripts broadcast on BBC Schools Radio. She has previously collaborated with composers, choreographers and Fine Artists.  Working part-time as a Dance critic, she lives in Edinburgh. Website